Not to be outdone, this past Saturday, they celebrated two victories in one day at the Division 1 district tournament at Mona Shores High School with the Bucs’ varsity baseball team. The latter — over heavily-favored Reeths-Puffer — clinched Grand Haven’s first district championship in 15 seasons.
Aside from cherished success, there are other similarities between the two teams, the players said.
“Everyone really gets along on both,” said VerDuin, the Bucs’ slugging first baseman and a hard-hitting defenseman on the ice. “They’re both great teams to be on. All the guys were more like brothers than anything else.
“For me, I think winning districts (in baseball) stands out a little more because it has been so long. And baseball is a sport that a lot of people like to follow, and it’s been great to get the support from everyone.”
Mulligan sided differently, saying the hockey championship was more special to him personally. Zelenka, meanwhile, was indifferent, saying the significance of the two were dead even.
“They’re pretty similar,” Zelenka said. “To end the streak of not winning districts in 15 years is something to be really proud of, but being a first-time conference champion is big, because it moves us up to Tier I, which is equally important.”
Zelenka, a junior, has been the Bucs’ shining star in both sports. During the winter, he moved to the Bucs’ varsity team for the first time from travel hockey and turned in a tremendous year with 30-plus goals and 20-plus assists. This spring, as a outfielder and pitcher, he’s led the team in hitting with a sparkling .437 average.
A key to the Bucs’ victory over the Rockets on Saturday was a strong defensive performance behind starting pitcher Adam Poel. Grand Haven coach Morey Wagenmaker said it’s been a consistent focus for his team from Day 1, starting with their Spring Break trip to Vero Beach, Fla.
“It boils down to a year of experience for a lot of them, and the kids dedicated themselves to improving their defensive skills,” Wagenmaker said. “They’ve gotten stronger in the weight room and they’ve taken the mindset that to be able to win ball games and move on, you’ve got to play good, solid defense.”
Senior second baseman Mulligan has bought in and it showed on Saturday. He and shortstop Jeff Stevens worked together to turn three double plays in the 6-0 victory over the Rockets.
Mulligan was also a dangerous forward for the Bucs’ hockey team, with his most memorable moment being the two critical goals he scored in the team’s comeback playoff win over Grand Rapids West Catholic.
“(The sports achievements) have been a great addition to my senior year,” he said. “It’s just added to it, because I’ve had a really fun year.”
Wagenmaker said it’s been beneficial for his squad to welcome athletes with championships already on their resume from other sports.
“It’s been a plus because they’ve been in a lot of tough situations and got a lot of competitive games under their belt,” he said. “We have a lot of kids on this team that are two- or three-sport athletes. With that, they’ve brought a competitive attitude, and a work ethic that’s helped team chemistry. Everyone roots for one another and when you’ve got that vibe, it makes winning a lot sweeter.”
The trio hopes that winning vibe can be felt a couple more times on Saturday, as they travel to Jenison for regional action. Again, the Bucs are underdogs, as they face Forest Hills Central in the semifinals.
“Reeths-Puffer had a better record than us, but we feel taking on all the tough teams in our conference better prepared us,” VerDuin said. “With our tough schedule and playing in the O-K Red, we feel prepared for any team we face. We’re ready to go, and we’ll play anyone that wants to face us.”